SIB Travels: The Acadia Birding Festival in Maine

We have participated in many dance and local seasonal festivals over the years,
but we were totally unaware of bird festivals until early this year.

The Acadia Birding Festival in Maine was a spur of the moment idea that morphed into a 3 week, 12 state, 3600+ mile road trip. In addition to the birding, we enjoyed lake life, genealogy, and history. We also added 24 life birds to our list.

Egg Rock Lighthouse, built 1875

For those unaware of birding festivals, this is what The Cornell Lab has to say: “A great way to enjoy bird watching is by going to festivals—they’re organized to get you to great birding spots at a great time of year, and they’re a great way to meet people. Experts and locals help you see more birds, and you’ll meet other visitors who share your hobby.”

Although late registering, we were still able to participate in 4 trips. There were
talks, and a large variety of scheduled activities. You could schedule 2-a-day if
you timed it right—and had the stamina. We were surprised to meet people
from CA, TX, and FL.

(Read more to see photos and details)

  • Artic Tern - Jackie Brooks

Our 1st trip was to Monhegan Island. Smaller than Seabrook Island, Monhegan is 1.7 miles long, .7 miles wide, and about 10 miles from the mainland. It is also the site of the highest sea cliffs in ME.

Golf carts and a few small trucks for carrying supplies are the only vehicles, but
there are 9 miles of trails and paths. Home to less than 100 year round residents, it is a summer destination for many. Amenities include an inn and air bnb’s, several small restaurants, and a brewery. In addition to the birding, the island itself was an attraction for us.

On board the boat, we had at least 6 official birding guides, as well as a few
more assistants. We saw some old familiar species such as Laughing Gulls,
Herring Gulls, Osprey, Double crested Cormorants. The less familiar species included Northern Gannets, Razorbills, Black Guillemot, Common Eider, Great
Black-backed Gull, Common Loon. A life bird for us was the Great Cormorant

Once on the island, we split into 3 smaller groups of 10-15 with 2 guides per
group. An unofficial, friendly competition between the groups had our group
winning with 398 individual birds and 50 species. Again, there were many
familiar birds such as wrens, goldfinch, nuthatches, but also a few life birds for
us. These included several warblers such as Blackburnian, Chestnut-sided,
Blackpoll, and Black-throated Green Warbler. Probably the most interesting
bird, another lifer, was the Ring-necked Pheasant.

Of particular interest, while not new species, were the Cedar Waxwings. None of
us had ever seen so many in one place. A conservative estimate was 220. They
often looked like blossoms on a tree.

After covering about 6 miles of trails, we were ready for a wrap up session at the
Monhegan Brewery, where, according to the guides, many rare and unusual
species are often spotted.

Our 2nd excursion was a 2-mile hike through Petit Manan NWR. While not long, the trail was rough, strewn with rocks and interlaced with roots. It was a hard 2 miles. It was mostly wooded, with a short portion along the shore during low tide. Maine tides are quite different than ours, so the shore birds were quite a distance away.

As is often the case in heavily wooded areas, we heard more birds than we saw.
There were 48 species seen or heard on this excursion. We heard our first-ever
Ovenbird, but are still waiting to see one. We also caught a glimpse of a bird
flying over which the guide said was a Red Crossbill. In all honesty, it looked like a bird to me.

On the beach, we did get to see a Black-bellied Plover in breeding plumage,
quite different from the ones we see here on SBI.

Personally, this event was a little disappointing due to lack of visual sightings.
That said, the guides were very good at pointing out sounds and describing
them.

In the small world department, one of our guides was a SC Gamecock who has
played Irish pipes with one of our favorite Newfoundland bands. He also lived
on James Island for a while. You never know who might be birding with you.

Our 3 rd excursion, and most looked forward to, was the Pelagic trip that visited 6 different nesting islands in the Gulf of Maine. The highlight was the adorable
Atlantic Puffins. Puffins nest in burrows on the rocky outer islands, but spend
the rest of the year at sea.

Lots of the same species of birds were seen on these islands. After all, the
habitat was similar. Eiders, Razorbills, Murres, Terns, and Puffins all found their niche.

We got 3 life birds on this excursion: Stormy Petrel, Roseate Tern, Great and
Sooty Shearwaters. The petrels are not nearly as large as I thought they would
be. The Great Shearwaters are the birds that have been showing up on Kiawah
recently.

Our 4th and final event was an unusual and easy one: the parking lot of the
Precipice Trailhead in Acadia National Park. We could not go on the trail
because it is closed during breeding season. Our object was the Peregrine
Falcon. We had a guide who was quite knowledgeable and shared lots of stories.
Much like Eagles and Brown Pelicans, Peregrine Falcons fell prey to pesticides,
pollutants as well as nest robbing and shooting. By the mid-1960s, the peregrines were no longer breeding in the eastern US. In 1991, after 35 years,
the first successful nesting at Acadia occurred. Since that time, at least one and
sometimes four pairs have produced young in the park, bringing the total to
more than 160 chicks.

We were successful in sighting a peregrine, although at over 1000 feet high, it was sometimes a speck. We also saw it chase a hawk away from the nesting area.

Our guide told us this pair has 4 chicks; 3 have been banded by climbers who
belayed chicks to the top, where they were measured and banded. There is a very short window when they can do this safely. Too soon and their legs are not
developed enough. Too late and the chicks become too agitated, move around
and can fall off the cliff. So, they have to be sure to do it when chicks are between 21-24 days old.

All in all, our first birding festival was a success. We will certainly try to attend
others. We encourage everyone who is interested in birding and travel to
explore the opportunities which combine your particular interests.

Submitted by Jackie and Walter Brooks

More on the Pelegrine Falcon and Acadia:
https://www.nps.gov/articles/peregrine-falcons-in-acadia.htm
Peregrines nested on Mount Desert Island at least as long ago as 1936. The last
known nesting pair was reported in 1956. From 1984 until 1986, 22 peregrine
chicks were successfully hacked in Acadia National Park from a high cliff face
overlooking Jordan Pond. Adult peregrines often return to areas near their
original hack sites, which was the case at Acadia. When an adult peregrine returned in 1987, the park discontinued the hacking program for fear that this
adult would prey upon any released chicks.

From 1987 to 1990 adult peregrines returned to Acadia, but did not produce
young. The first successful nesting at Acadia in 35 years occurred in 1991. Since
that time, at least one and sometimes four pairs have produced young in the
park, bringing the total to more than 160 chicks.

Many of the young have been banded to learn about peregrine migration,
habitat use, and longevity. Birds banded in the park have been seen in Vermont,
Maryland, Washington, D.C., and New Brunswick.

In early spring each year, park resource managers watch intently for signs of
returning peregrines. If mating or nesting behavior is observed, certain trails are temporarily closed to avoid disturbance to the nesting area. These measures are helping this magnificent falcon make a triumphant comeback in Acadia
National Park and contributing to the success story of the Endangered Species
Act.

Author: sibirders

SEABROOK ISLAND BIRDERS / “watching, learning, protecting” Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) are residents, renters and guests of Seabrook Island, SC who have an interest in learning, protecting and providing for the well-being of the incredible variety of birds that inhabit Seabrook Island throughout the year.

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